Experts: Months before results of travel bubble

PETALING JAYA: As Langkawi opens its doors to visitors in a travel bubble project, health experts believe it will take as long as two months to see if the move results in a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said any spike in Covid-19 cases have to be carefully observed for the next two to four weeks.

However, she said this should not necessarily be confined to Langkawi but all states where the travellers are from.

If there are no clusters formed, Dr Malina said this would indicate both the standard operating procedures (SOP) and the vaccine have worked.

“If there are, then an assessment should be comprehensively carried out so that appropriate steps can be further decided such as whether new approaches according to endemic situations should be adopted or whether we have to restrict movement again.

“And at the same time impose the compulsory prescription of booster dose,” she said.

On Sept 3, the government announced that local tourists will get to visit Langkawi from Sept 16 under a tourism bubble pilot project as the nation eases back to recreational activity.

Entry into Langkawi is only by sea and air, and authorities are ensuring only fully vaccinated tourists who have been screened for Covid-19 can set foot on the island.

On Sept 16, five Covid-19 positive cases among tourists heading to Langkawi were detected while one tourist was detected carrying the virus on Sept 18.

Meanwhile, Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud believed it will take between six and eight weeks to see whether the recent openings would result in a rise of new infections.

“It is therefore critical that we keep our finger on the pulse of the pandemic,” he said, adding that pandemic management must transition to endemic management.

Dr Awang Bulgiba said there is still a need to learn how to live with Covid-19 as an endemic disease and use whatever means to ensure that the virus does not get out of control.

“That means putting in a new kind of ‘normal’ in place and correcting all the deficiencies of the past,” he said.

He cited the situation in the UK where its government had lifted almost all restrictions on July 19 even though the UK at that time had rising daily incidence rate (seven-day rolling average) of more than 600 cases per million people.

Despite the high incidence rate, he said hospitalisations had not risen at the same rate and had in fact plateaued after July 25.

“The real reasons for this phenomenon are not entirely clear but the Delta variant could be a possible explanation for the rise in new cases. However, extensive vaccination in the UK ensured the rise in new cases was not accompanied by a similar rise in hospitalisations,” he said.

“Whether the same phenomenon will be seen in Malaysia remains to be seen as there are other factors which will come into play.

“For one, Malaysia’s vaccine portfolio is more diverse (leading to a wider range of effectiveness), there are many undocumented migrants who have yet to be vaccinated, the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme started three months later than the UK and public healthcare facilities in Malaysia are less developed compared to the UK,” he added.

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